Why You Should Never Forget that Netflix Is a Business First and Foremost

Everybody loves an the little guy: a Rocky Balboa, an Adonis Creed, a James Braddock.  Everybody loves rooting for the underdog.  After all, when you’re down for the count and struggling to get back on your feet, everybody wants to be the guy who gets back up and pushes back against the other guy.

It seems like anytime somebody sets them apart from the established contenders, people flock to their side to cheer them on as they take on the heavyweight champion of whatever field they take to, it doesn’t matter if it’s in sports or in business.  Everybody wants to cheer on the scrappy young thing with nothing to lose and everything to prove: so much so that we oftentimes lose sight of the proper perspective to judge matters objectively.

Take Netflix for example.  They started off as an exciting alternative to the big bad evil guy everybody hated, Blockbuster Video.  These were scrappy young innovators that beamed movies into your living room like magic and didn’t come part and parcel with late fees and inconvenient treks to the other side of town.

And, later, with Blockbuster sucker-punched in the corner and failing to get back on its feet, Netflix took aim at the Cable companies.  Once again, leading from behind, they started producing or picking up incredible first-run and exclusive content that no other content provider was… well.. providing.  They revived old favorites (like Fuller House), picked up projects that had long languished in developmental Hell (Castlevania), continued everybody’s favorite movie franchises on the small screen (Daredevil) and produced the kinds of shows that could seemingly only exist on their platform (House of Cards).

And after that opponent started reeling, it was on to their next adversary: Hollywood.  And, once again, they set themselves up as the underdog.  They produced, picked up and otherwise provided us with a rich array of movies that we never knew that we wanted beforehand, and they took that pluck all the way to the Oscars, with their biggest successes coming a scant few weeks ago, when they very nearly missed out on winning Best Picture.

But I’ll let you in on a little secret here: Netflix is not the underdog.  Maybe it once was, but that time has long since passed.  They’re the industry leader in home entertainment and are rapidly expanding into other arenas and competing just as well (if not better) than many of their more seasoned rivals.  And anybody expecting them to act differently from the big dogs in the room are in for a rude awakening when they predictably do not, at least now that they’ve got your money.

The latest example of this is the company’s surprise cancelation of their hit series One Day at a Time earlier this week.  The series was beloved far and wide, although Netflix’s adamant refusal to release their data metrics makes it virtually impossible to figure out exactly how many people were watching it (a fact made even more confounding by virtue of the fact that they refused to promote or advertise the show in any meaningful way, such that the first time that most people actually heard about the show was when it was getting ousted from the streaming service).

The real kicker is how exactly they decided to send the series off: with a glibly worded tweet which read “We’ve made the very difficult devision not to renew One Day at a Tie for a fourth season.  The choice did not come easy – we spent several weeks trying to find a way to make another season work but in the end simply not enough people watched to justify another season.”  It’s almost as if they didn’t have several recently-canceled Marvel series whose budgets could have been portioned out to other series, or that they didn’t just spend $100 million dollars to keep Friends on their platform for another year.  Real shame that literally everybody in the world – everybody, that is, other than Netflix itself – dropped the ball on this one, am I right?

What’s even worse, though, is the tweet that followed: “And to anyone who felt seen or represented – possibly for the first time – by ODAAT, please don’t take this as an indication your story is not important.  The outpouring of love for this show is a firm reminder to us that we must continue finding ways to tell these stories.”  There’s almost nothing worse than this false commiseration with the fans you hurt by cancelling the show, right after you blame them for not watching the show enough, as if your words somehow speak louder than your actions.  The fact of the matter is, that they did send a message that these stories don’t deserve to be told… or at least, don’t deserve to be told unless they earn Netflix another hundred thousand subscribers this quarter.  These stories matter, they say, just as long as they aren’t these specific ones.

Now, I understand that Netflix is a business and they have to make business decisions regarding where they put their money.  If a show isn’t working for them, than of course they’re going to cancel it.  It’s just like any of their aforementioned rivals would do, from Blockbuster to Cable networks to movie studios.  But when you act like the establishment – the very people that you set yourself up opposite of – you don’t then get to turn around and claim to be a “man of the people” who’s just in it for the art, unlike those money-grubbing corporations we’re all opposed to.  Netflix is no different from those other corporations that they set themselves up against, and it’s about time that we start treating them like it.

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